Tag Archives: George Leventhal

Leventhal and Trone Duke It Out: Both Lose

George Leventhal and David Trone, two prospective candidates for county executive in 2018, made comments seemingly designed to make news–and they did in Bethesda Beat–as they debated the issue of pay-to-play politics. Leventhal charged that Trone’s contributions amount to pay-for-pay politics while Trone called Leventhal “a fool, F-O-O-L, and a bully.”

Trone’s Contradictory Statements

Leventhal’s attack centered on Trone’s political contributions:

“[T]he Trone brothers made enormous political contributions in order to get access to the Wisconsin market for their product,” Leventhal said. “They’re indicative of just one trend in the industry of paying off politicians to get what they want. The Trones have done that over a long period of time.”

Indeed, during his congressional campaign, Trone admitted bluntly “I sign my checks to buy access.” Now, he’s trying to walk it back:

Trone said he and his brother make donations to elected officials whom they believe have an interest in furthering “the common good” and who support economic initiatives that benefit the consumer.

Not Leventhal’s Best Issue Either

Leventhal attacks Trone for making supposedly corrupting donations to buy access. However, Leventhal has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions from business:

Leventhal says that he has never allowed any contributor to “buy access” but is well known for his support of development interests. While he contends otherwise, Leventhal’s situation is no different from that of any other person who accepted money from the Trone brothers.

Now, George Leventhal sidesteps this past showering in funds from business and touts his participation in the public campaign finance system as evidence of new purity:

“That’s precisely why I’m so delighted to participate in the public finance system,” Leventhal said. “That option wasn’t available to me previously, but I believe it will take the influence of big money out of politics.”

Except that not all of his colleagues took as much “big money” in the past as Leventhal. Marc Elrich, another rival for county executive, received very little from business. The 32% share of Elrich’s contributions from individual donations under $150 was also twice as high as the 16% of Leventhal’s contributions.

Leventhal’s Lurch Left

Following the debate on raising the minimum wage, this is now the second issue in a very short period on which George Leventhal has hugged Marc Elrich tightly. Abandoning his past business ties, Leventhal touts a $15/hour minimum wage with the fervor of a convert, and regularly plugs his embrace of public financing.

The strategy of imprinting himself in the media as the true progressive tribune is not a bad one. In recent weeks, his combination of abrasive outspokenness has gained him more media attention than his rivals. As Trump showed in the Republican primary, that can work wonders.

On the other hand, Leventhal has a long record. Will his new embrace of a much higher minimum wage and attacks on major campaign contributions gain him progressive support? Or will it just leave primary voters wondering why they should vote for mini-Marc when Marc is also on the ballot?

Leventhal Lurches Left on the Minimum Wage

As he prepares to run for County Executive, Montgomery County Councilmember George Leventhal (D-At Large) is taking a no-one-to-my-left approach on the minimum wage. He has heartily embraced the legislation by fellow Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-At Large) to raise the county’s minimum wage to $15/hour.

The legislation, recently vetoed by County Executive Ike Leggett after passing the Council by 5-4, would have indexed the minimum wage. Consistent with his position, Leventhal came out strongly on Facebook against a proposal by Del. Dereck Davis (D-Prince George’s) to limit the abilities of local jurisdictions to legislate on the minimum wage, and pointed out that the County’s current minimum wage law is not indexed for inflation:

His campaign consultant, Karen Murphy, then posted the first comment applauding Leventhal and attacking both Davis and Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-1), who voted against the legislation to increase the wage:

Berliner is a likely rival to Leventhal for the open county executive post in 2018.

At this point, my fellow blogger Adam Pagnucco, who formerly worked for the Council, pointed out that Leventhal had voted for an amendment sponsored by Berliner to strip indexing from the county’s minimum wage in 2013:

(Here is the link to the meeting in the screenshot of Adam’s post.)

George agreed that Adam is correct but then noted that Adam has done work for Berliner as a campaign consultant. Irrelevant but fair enough. On the other hand, it was only at this point that it was revealed that Karen Murphy, who earlier posted the SHAME on Berliner comment, works for Leventhal.

Can we look forward to Karen Murphy revealing her employer and pay in future political posts? (Note: Adam says he was paid less but the debate over the amount is not important here.)

George later explained his evolution on the issue:

The proposed new minimum wage of $15.00 is a 30 percent increase over $11.50. Councilmembers who voted no expressed concerns that a minimum wage set above a certain point could crimp the county’s economy. Councilmember Leventhal argued this point passionately during the 2013 debate. So this new lack of caution is a real shift.

The politics of this debate are interesting. The county’s Democratic Party continues to shift left, so taking a vocal, hardline pro-minimum wage stance may be politically advantageous. This should benefit Elrich, yet another candidate for county executive, and Leventhal would hope he too would reap the benefits, or at least mend relations with unions who didn’t endorse him 2014.

In theory, this leaves business oriented Democrats open for Berliner, or another potential candidate like David Trone. However, Leventhal has had strong developer and business support in the past and would likely try to win their support again, if only as clearly preferable to Elrich from their point of view.

(Note: I am not a consultant to any campaign or a supporter of anyone for county executive at this time. I have actively supported both Elrich and Berliner in some of their past Council races.)

Leventhal Continues Soft Executive Announcement

Councilmember George Leventhal (D-AL) has not announced formally for county executive but has all but done so. First, he allowed local Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) leader Saqib Ali to launch a website promoting him for County Executive.

Now, Leventhal has started raising money under Montgomery County’s new public financing system using the fundraising limits in place for the position of county executive. He sent an email blast out the other day to supporters.

Leventhal touts that, thus far, he is the “only candidate to opt into the system” and reiterates the message “There is only one!” in red with an arrow pointing to his name.

LevClean

While technically true, Leventhal is the “only” candidate in the system simply because he is the first to set up an account. Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-AL) also plans to run for County Executive and has made very clear that he too plans to opt into the system.

Unlike Leventhal, Elrich has refused contributions from developers in the past and run much less expensive campaigns in the past. Focus on campaign spending is a new tactic for Leventhal.

Other potential candidates, such as Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-1) and Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-18) may also participate in the system. I imagine that wealthy businessman David Trone would not if he jumps into the race since he spent an extraordinary amount on his unsuccessful congressional bid.

So Leventhal heavily implies that he has a uniquely clean approach to politics while never actually stating anything that is factually untrue. The fundraising email contains no other message about past accomplishments or future goals.

BREAKING: Brookeville to Open Montgomery’s First Casino

brookeville-acadBrookeville Academy

Comptroller Peter Franchot’s discovery that the Town of Brookeville owes $7.2 million to the State of Maryland due to his office’s miscalculation of municipal tax receipts for many years placed the Town in quite a bind, as the municipality of just 134 souls had no idea how it could repay the debt.

Today, Brookeville Commission President Katherine Farquhar announced that, after working on the issue with the County and the State, Brookeville will open a casino in historic Brookeville Academy (pictured above), which is owned by the Town, to raise monies to pay off the debt to the State.

Franchot praised the decision, stating that he “appreciates the Town’s gratitude to my office for finding the errors” and plans to award the Town the Comptroller’s Medal for its “creative solution” to the Town’s financial difficulties.

Members of the County Council had initially expressed concerns regarding the project. But Council President Roger Berliner (D-1) has now announced that the casino will be the first recipient of the microloan program he has advertised on Facebook in anticipation of his 2018 County Executive bid.

In a press release, Berliner said “I’m so pleased that the microloan program will make the casino possible. It will help jump start Federal Realty’s development of the outbuildings for future expansion, showing the importance of partnerships like these.”

After initial opposition, Councilmember Tom Hucker (D-5) came on board once the Town agreed to hire MCGEO workers transferred from county liquor stores. “They know as much about gaming as beer, wine and liquor, so this is a great opportunity,” said MCGEO President Gino Renne.

Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Gigi Godwin agreed with the union president, as she commended the County for brushing aside development concerns with the adoption of a special Zoning Text Amendment (ZTA) over the objection of the Civic Federation. “We need the County to take a more proactive approach on business.”

Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-AL) also applauded the project, saying that he was happy to learn that Brookeville “is open to serving craft beers” that an official taskforce determined were crucial to revitalizing nightlife in the County.

The sole casino opponent, Councilmember Marc Elrich (D-AL), pointed out that Georgia Ave. is already a parking lot and that the development violated County traffic tests. His statement was interrupted by George Leventhal, who brusquely asked Elrich “Why do you care about people coming from Howard County? Haven’t you figured out we ignore you yet?”

In contrast, Councilmember Nancy Floreen (D-AL) expressed optimism regarding transportation: “SafeTrack has been such a success. We should use the projected savings on Metro to initiate a study on extending the Purple Line to Brookeville.”

The casino will have a War of 1812 theme, reflecting Brookeville’s role as the “U.S. Capital for a Day” in 1814 during the British occupation of Washington. The building’s exterior will be preserved as the interior is redesigned in a “modern Madisionian” style.

(P.S. I think most have figured out by now, but yes, this is satire. Happy New Year.)

Leventhal Blasts the Dumbest Lobbying Campaign of All Time

By Adam Pagnucco.

On the evening of October 20, a representative of Clark Enterprises (Bob Eisenberg) appeared before the Montgomery County Council to testify on the Downtown Bethesda Master Plan.  Clark has been involved in a dispute with its next-door neighbor, fellow developer Brookfield Properties, over Brookfield’s plan to erect a new building on top of the Bethesda Metro Station.  Clark hired PR firm KOFA Public Affairs to wage a campaign to block the new building that accused Council Members of being tools of developers and criticized their salaries.  Accordingly, we labeled it “The Dumbest Lobbying Campaign of All Time” since even dimwitted lobbyists understand that elected officials don’t respond well to attacks on their integrity.

Above is the reaction of Council Member George Leventhal to KOFA’s insult-laden campaign.  Hide the children, folks!

 

Two Myths About Term Limits

By Adam Pagnucco.

The fight over whether term limits should apply to Montgomery County elected officials is now underway, and that’s even before political heckler Robin Ficker has submitted his signatures for his proposed charter amendment.  Supporters and opponents are offering arguments for their point of view, some with merit and some without.  Today we will take down one of the most prominent arguments from each side.

1.  Term Limits are Needed to Create Competition

The historical record shows plenty of competition for elected office in Montgomery County.  It just doesn’t happen to be the kind of competition that some term limits supporters want.

Since charter government was established in 1970, there has been one Republican County Executive (Jim Gleason, the first to hold that office) and three Republican Council Members (District 1’s Betty Ann Krahnke and Howard Denis and District 2’s Nancy Dacek).  The other county elected officials have all been Democrats.  But there has been substantial competition among the Democrats over the years, including the Neal Potter vs. Sidney Kramer factions in the 1980s and early 1990s and the competing council slates in 2002.

Below are the election results over the last six cycles.

MoCo Elections 1994-2014

Incumbents were reelected 42 times and lost 6 times.  It’s important to note that two of those six losses were by Republicans in general elections: Dacek (2002) and Denis (2006).  Including them, incumbents had a win rate of 88%.

But when you count the open seats (15 of them including three special elections), newcomers filled seats one-third of the time.  That’s plenty of turnover and FAR more than Congress.  Ficker’s objection is that Democrats replace other Democrats, and term limits won’t change that.

2.  Term Limits Supporters are Similar to Brexit Voters

This is an argument made by four-term council incumbent George Leventhal, who has called term limits “a dumb, unnecessary protest gesture” and compared supporters to Brexit voters.  Leventhal has also noted that Help Save Maryland, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled a “nativist extremist” group, has gathered signatures for the charter amendment.  This is a clear attempt to marginalize term limits supporters and paint them as pawns of racist xenophobes.

There are two problems with this argument.  First, if Ficker, Help Save Maryland and the county GOP were the only people in favor of term limits, they would have absolutely no chance of passage.  So why are Council Members like Leventhal so worried about it?  The answer is that he and other opponents know the issue is getting broader traction.  Second, the motivations of supporters are almost entirely local ones.  Consider the following groups who might be tempted to back term limits.

People Who Object to the Giant Tax Hike

The nine percent property tax hike is extremely unpopular, unnecessarily large, and could not have come at a worse time.  If term limits becomes a proxy vote on whether the Giant Tax Hike should have gone through – and Ficker is doing everything in his power to link the issues – term limits will pass by a mile.

Business People

Business owners and managers have been complaining incessantly about the difficulty of doing business in Montgomery County for many years.  Passage of repeated tax hikes along with progressive legislation that increases the cost of doing business feeds into their unhappiness.  Then there are the restaurants and retailers who are forced to do business with the county’s incompetent Department of Liquor Control.  Term limits seem like a good idea to some of them!

County Employees

First, the County Council abrogated the county employee unions’ collective bargaining agreements .  Next, the council introduced legislation to weaken their ability to negotiate.  Some in labor are furious and there is even a chance that one or more unions could SUPPORT term limits.

One thing that many people outside labor don’t understand is that unions are political organizations.  Local union leaders are elected by their members every three years.  Each union has to deal with internal discussions, occasional disagreements and even dissent.  Members have expectations of service and performance, and when they are not met, there can be consequences.  When an employer rubs a union leader’s face in the bitter mud of defeat, that leader must fight back or risk being seen as weak.  And if such a leader tells members that term limits are the only way to defend their rights in the workplace, a lot of those members are going to listen.

Non-Democrats and Moderate Democrats

Republicans and unaffiliated voters have long been on the outside looking in at county politics.  But many moderate Democrats, especially those far away from the liberal precincts near the Beltway, don’t feel adequately represented either.  True or not, comments about “Takoma Park liberals” dominating county government are not unheard of, even among Democrats.  The county Democratic Party’s rank-and-file is more ideologically diverse than its elected leadership, and if the leaders don’t do things to keep moderates on board (like limit the size of tax hikes), they will lose some of them to the likes of Governor Larry Hogan and even to the cause of term limits.

Note the common thread of the concerns held by the above groups: none of them are linked to racism, xenophobia or political extremism.  Whether they are right or wrong, all are rooted in local issues and many are in line with these folks’ self-interest.

In general, it’s a REALLY bad idea to call voters “dumb” even if sometimes there’s a little bit of truth in it.  If that’s the argument that term limits opponents use, term limits will DEFINITELY pass.

County Council Hopping Mad Over DLC Price Hike on Special Order Wines

Montgomery County Councimembers Tom Hucker and George Leventhal have objected vehemently to the Department of Liquor Control’s 10% price hike on special order wines.  Both have been staunch defenders of the County’s liquor monopoly and amazed that the DLC is taking exactly the opposite approach advocated by the County earlier this year.

Here is George Leventhal’s email to DLC Acting Director Fariba Kassiri:

Dear Fariba,

Last year, the County Council unanimously recommended that special order beer and wine sales should be handled by the private sector. County Executive Leggett initially agreed to this recommendation, but then changed his mind and our state legislative delegation deferred to his wishes, so no change occurred to beer and wine sales in Montgomery County. Now, according to your message below, the county has decided that because special order beer and wine sales cost DLC substantially more to process, DLC will impose a substantial price hike on licensees for these products. This decision was made without informing the County Council ahead of time and without the benefit of any advice from a Task Force on Liquor Sales, which Mr. Leggett promised to appoint but has yet to appoint.
Once again, DLC is acting in a manner that is adverse to the interests of the county’s restaurants and retail sector. I am disappointed in this decision and even more disappointed by the failure of the executive branch to take this issue seriously. The County Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Liquor Control delved into the issue and came up with a compromise last year that would have preserved significant revenue to the county while freeing restaurants and retailers from the most onerous challenges of working with the county-controlled system. I am done apologizing for the failure of the executive branch to handle liquor sales responsively and efficiently. The responsibility for this failure rests squarely with Mr. Leggett.
With great concern,
George Leventhal
Montgomery County Councilmember

Councilmember Tom Hucker issued a press release and also posted this on his Facebook page:

huckerliquor

Who is Behind “Mayor of MoCo” Website?

mayormoco1Not too long ago, a web page popped up touting County Councilmember George Leventhal (D-At Large) as the next “Mayor” (i.e. County Executive) of Montgomery County. George is widely known to be interested in the race – he ran last time but withdrew before the primary to run for reelection.

The webpage is funny and gives a list of ten reasons – some serious, some joking – why Leventhal should be the next Exec. The author is seemingly the anonymous “Mayor of Moco:”

mayormoco2Clicking on the author’s name reveals inadvertently that former Del. Saqib Ali (D-39) is the author. While his name is not mentioned anywhere on the connecting page, it shows up in the URL:

mayormoco3

In addition to creating the web page, Saqib has created an anonymous twitter account:

mayormoco5Saqib Ali has been very active in MoCo politics. He won election to the House of Delegates on a slate from District 39 in 2006. When the Senate seat became vacant, he sought it but the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee selected the much more experienced Del. Nancy King for the vacancy.

Del. Ali spent most of the next four years of his term in the House openly preparing to challenge King for the Senate seat. Indeed, the 2010 Senate primary was exceedingly close but King prevailed over Sleepy Saqib – as Sen. King labelled him during the campaign – by a margin of 3.4%.

In 2012, Saqib made a much less successful run for a Board of Education seat. In 2014, he announced but then pulled back for a run for a seat in the House of Delegates. Since then, he has become known for his activism in support of the BDS Movement, which advocates for boycotts, divestment and sanctions of Israel.

At the Montgomery Priorities Hearing, Saqib testified against legislation advocated by Del. Ben Kramer that would have resulted in the State boycotting companies and institutions that boycott Israel. More recently, he testified as a member of the Steering Committee of Marylanders for BDS on legislation before George’s committee on the Council on County legislation.

During his testimony, Saqib stated that Israeli settlements are “quite close to a war crime.” He then drops the qualifier when he says that “settlements meet the Geneva Convention definition for ‘war crime.” In short, he is now a strong and public advocate for BDS.

George Leventhal’s Viewpoint

George Leventhal kindly replied to my questions regarding the web page and BDS via email. Regarding the web page, George told me:

Saqib is a longtime friend. He let me know that he was planning to express his enthusiasm online about my potential candidacy for County Executive, but the “Mayor of MoCo” initiative is his alone, and I have had no involvement in it.

If I decide to run for County Executive, I will welcome Saqib’s involvement and will hope to win the support of a wide range of county residents, but I am a long way from making any decisions regarding 2018. In my four successful election campaigns, I am honored to have had the support of many activists in both the Jewish and Muslim communities, as well as many other communities. As an at-large councilmember who has represented more than one million constituents for nearly 14 years, I would not expect to agree with every opinion of every one of my supporters.

George’s point about not agreeing with everyone of his supporters is a good one. Who does? However, Saqib is not some random supporter among many.  Saqib and George may well have become closer allies over George’s support for efforts to incorporate a Muslim holiday into the school calendar – a positive effort that is about recognition and inclusion. But George’s “longtime friend” is also leading local activist in support of BDS who is a former state legislator and has testified at least twice on the issue. At the very least, George raised no objection to this page, which represents his first public move for a bid for County Executive. As a result, pro-BDS Saqib seems more than some minor supporter.

George also shared his views on the BDS Movement:

I do not associate myself with efforts to boycott Israel or divest from it or impose sanctions on it. I feel a deep affinity for Israel, which I have visited three times. My sister lived there for several years. I support a two-state solution. In general, I would describe my views on the Israel/Palestine issue as consistent with those of J Street.

I would not characterize Israeli settlements in the West Bank as a war crime, although I think they are extremely counterproductive to the goal of peace in the Middle East.

While many might disagree with George’s views on BDS or Israeli settlements as either too liberal or too conservative, I’d say they fall right in the mainstream of Jewish and American opinion.

Some might argue that Donna Edwards’s identification with liberal J Street did her some harm in the Democratic primary, and that the same fate could befall George. More hardline pro-Israel voters do indeed reject J Street. Many others, however, would find George’s viewpoints utterly reasonable.

The more serious political problem is when a candidate is perceived fundamentally unsympathetic to Israel. In George’s comments, that is clearly not the case, as he strikes a smart balance of “deep affinity for Israel” and support for a “two-state solution.” But linkage with a prominent BDS supporter in what is essentially his prospective campaign’s first outing undermines that perception.

Moreover, Saqib is working to make this linkage stronger. He has now become the first person to attack me on Twitter before I even drafted a piece. Expressing anger at my “smears” and “appalling tactics,” Saqib then turned to faux outrage that I won’t open up this space to him. I look forward to all the pro-BDS webpages opening up their space to AIPAC and J Street.

All of this is helpful to getting Saqib Ali more attention but it sure doesn’t help George Leventhal.

Foreign Policy in County Elections?

Normally, I would not think foreign policy terribly relevant to a campaign for county executive. Aside from the nice Sister Cities program, my hope would be that any county executive focus on the nuts and bolts of making the County work well. But Saqib’s repeated public interventions show how views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can  become intertwined with even local politics.

The injection of a prominent BDS supporter as part of George’s effort to stick his political toe publicly in the water will likely raise concerns among the many voters who oppose BDS and does not help us keep focused on the issues that matter – the ones on which George Leventhal has spent the vast majority of his career and has exhibited a great deal of genuine passion for over the years.

Leventhal Endorses Taylor

George’s letter to MCDCC:

I’m writing to express my hope that MCDCC will appoint Herman Taylor to the District 14 Delegate seat.

With a Republican governor in Annapolis, it is more important than ever that Montgomery County build closer relationships with other Democratic-majority jurisdictions, especially Baltimore and Prince George’s County. Herman was an officer of the Legislative Black Caucus and has warm, long-standing friendships with the senators and delegates from those jurisdictions.

The central committee’s process is — correctly in my judgment — being criticized for failing to give District 14 voters a voice. Herman was elected by those voters twice already, in 2002 and 2006.

I like and respect Pam Queen, Chris Bradbury and Mark Feinroth. I understand these are tough choices. But there is no doubt in my mind that Montgomery County will be best served at this moment by putting Herman back in the seat he occupied previously.

Thank you for considering my point of view.

Warm regards,
George Leventhal

Leventhal Says Council Has No Plans to Investigate DLC Snafu

There is a new twitter site on the ongoing problems with Montgomery County’s Department of Liquor Control: @UnSuckMoCoDLC. It appears to have been set up by a liquor licensee who wants “to let the public know what we licensees have to go through.” Neither Adam Pagnucco nor I know who is running the account or had anything to do with setting it up.

No Council Oversight of DLC New Year’s Problems

There was a lively discussion on the Seventh State Facebook page in the wake of this morning’s post. Beyond disagreeing with the post, Councilmember George Leventhal made some news in response to a question from Adam Pagnucco:

leventhalladhoc

In essence, George plans to do nothing. No serious investigation would wait months until the end of the state legislative session. The meeting of the General Assembly has no bearing on the Council’s oversight responsibilities. George knows this.

Moreover, if the General Assembly passes the County’s preferred bill on the topic, the County will still be engaging is very close to the same level of deliveries. Indeed, the change will likely be marginal as this proposal designed to protect the status quo in the guise of change is unworkable.

Yet Leventhal Prides Himself on Oversight

Nonetheless, George perceives himself as a leader in the fight for more accountability at the DLC. He’s just mad that no one is giving him enough credit for it:

leventhalloversightIt sure didn’t feel like George is a a strong critic when he gave the DLC a pass on the major New Year’s Eve delivery snafu because he had a bad experience at Starbucks. Moreover, The New Year’s snafu casts doubt on any effectiveness of this vaunted oversight to date and George’s Facebook comments today evince little evidence of a willingness to press further on this issue.